Terms used and abused: Anarchy

After watching much confusion in a conversation on twitter where the word “anarchy” was totally redefined by someone in an Orwellian “war is peace” sort of way, I decided to look at a few of the words used in politics here where one has more than 140 characters (not words just characters!) to get an idea across. Of course the disadvantage is the number of people who would read a post like this is few compared to the amount of people who will glance at a 140 character tweet. Life is full of choices, eh?

I was looking at something else and noticed that Murray N. Rothbard had defined the State and Anarchy in preparation for talking about a society without a State. He wrote:

In attempting to outline how a “society without a state” – that is, an anarchist society – might function successfully, I would first like to defuse two common but mistaken criticisms of this approach. First, is the argument that in providing for such defense or protection services as courts, police, or even law itself, I am simply smuggling the state back into society in another form, and that therefore the system I am both analyzing and advocating is not “really” anarchism.

This sort of criticism can only involve us in an endless and arid dispute over semantics. Let me say from the beginning that I define the state as that institution which possesses one or both (almost always both) of the following properties: (1) it acquires its income by the physical coercion known as “taxation”; and (2) it asserts and usually obtains a coerced monopoly of the provision of defense service (police and courts) over a given territorial area. An institution not possessing either of these properties is not and cannot be, in accordance with my definition, a state.

What is so hard for people to understand about the word “anarchy”? It simply means a society that does not have a state. A society, not a failed state and/or chaos! What is a State? See the definition quoted above. It is more precise in my view than the more normal definition of “the entity claiming the monopoly on the legitimate use of force in a defined geographical area”.

So how would one define “anarchist society” then? From the above we see that it is one where there is no legal possibility for coercive aggression against the person or property of an individual. Did you notice the word “legal” in the last sentence? I am not saying that there would never be coercive aggression in an anarchist society, only that it would be illegal and illegitimate. I do not propose that Anarchy leads to a Utopia because the nature of man tells me that it would not do so. On this topic Rothbard wrote:

A further point: in a profound sense, no social system, whether anarchist or statist, can work at all unless most people are “good” in the sense that they are not all hell-bent upon assaulting and robbing their neighbors. If everyone were so disposed, no amount of protection, whether state or private, could succeed in staving off chaos. Furthermore, the more that people are disposed to be peaceful and not aggress against their neighbors, the more successfully any social system will work, and the fewer resources will need to be devoted to police protection. The anarchist view holds that, given the “nature of man,” given the degree of goodness or badness at any point in time, anarchism will maximize the opportunities for the good and minimize the channels for the bad. The rest depends on the values held by the individual members of society. The only further point that needs to be made is that by eliminating the living example and the social legitimacy of the massive legalized crime of the state, anarchism will to a large extent promote peaceful values in the minds of the public.

It is impossible to calculate the effect on the mental state of man caused by the violence and coercion of the State. Anarchists say that with the State removed there would be far less violence and just the removal of the State would be a vast reduction in total violence. But what about those statist agents who claim that Anarchy is Chaos and call any chaos that develops anyplace in the world by the term “anarchy”?

Simply put, to call a “failed state” situation where chaos breaks up society as “anarchy” is propaganda and lies. Anyplace where chaos develops should be called by the name “chaos”. Why is that hard for the agent provocateur to understand? Wait, they do understand. They just want to discredit the alternative to the State by any means possible.

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